Guest Opinion: Restoring Salmon
Aug 28, 2019
A recent guest opinion told Source readers we should consider "feasible alternatives" for salmon reintroduction above the Pelton Round Butte Hydroelectric Project—the facility Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs co-own and operate near Madras. But the alternative suggested would not meet the goals of the reintroduction project: to restore self-sustaining and harvestable runs of Chinook, sockeye and steelhead to the upper Deschutes Basin.
We developed a comprehensive strategy to move fish around the dams and fix another important problem—the fact that the way water moved through the dams distorted seasonal temperature patterns down river. Learn about our strategy at PortlandGeneral.com/ProtectingFish.
The 20-plus organizations collaborating on this long-term program knew we would have to learn and adjust along the way, so our project license incorporates adaptive management. This means we make improvements to reflect new information, adopting feasible alternatives when supported by good science.
For example, research shows juvenile fish travel at night, so now we generate power at night during peak migration, increasing flow to our collection facility to attract more fish. In 2017 and 2018, we captured our highest percentage of juvenile fish yet.
Adaptive management changes also contributed to this year's upper-basin spring Chinook returns. The total—47 fish—is not large, but of the entire Deschutes adult spring Chinook run, a much higher percentage came from the upper basin than ever before. We have a long way to go, but fish passing through our project are on the road to recovery, despite poor ocean conditions and dismal overall Columbia Basin returns.
We're also designing a guidance net that should further improve downstream migration—an effective tool on other rivers. This is one of many related fish passage, water quality and habitat improvement projects across the basin you can read about at PRBFishCommittee.com.
The guest-opinion proposal sounds easy: "simply truck out-migrating fish from the tributaries around not only the dams, but Lake Billy Chinook as well." In fact, we're implementing a similar strategy for some hatchery releases, along with acclimating the fish in tributaries before migration. We think this can help jumpstart returns of Chinook and steelhead. But it can't replace the current system.
That's because we want more than an expanded hatchery program. We want to restore wild fish runs. To collect wild fish upstream, new and far more disruptive, river-straddling traps would be needed for each Lake Billy Chinook tributary. Fisheries managers found this impractical when we first evaluated reintroduction strategies. If we did try it, years of refining and troubleshooting would follow, and the existing system would still be required for water temperature management and wild sockeye capture (because they rear in the lake).
Rather than start over, we remain committed to moving forward. We have reaffirmed our ambitious goals for Deschutes Basin salmon and steelhead restoration, and have innovative strategies, an adaptive process, and a team of collaborative partners—backed by major investments on behalf of Tribal members and PGE customers—to help us get there.
—Jim Manion, Warm Springs Power & Water Enterprises of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs
Megan Hill, Fisheries and Water Quality, Portland General Electric